Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Others Who Weren't So Lucky

Monday night, news broke that the Twins had retained all of their arbitration eligible players, including both Luis Rivas and Jacque Jones. These two moves will be questioned up until spring training and even into next season. Jones is an outfielder coming off an off-year and is now eating up 5 million of the Twins payroll. Rivas has actually regressed the past couple of seasons and is only marginally better then his competition in the infield (despite a much earning a much higher salary than every one of them). Add those two to the payroll and it now appears the Twins are, at best, several million over budget for next year with no room left to sign any other free agents. With the Twins off-season moves all but done they will now turn their attention to signing franchise player Johan Santana. Not only were things happening at 34 Kirby Puckett Place, but there were also several other intriguing players non-tendered Monday. A quick walk through those transactions:

The White Sox allow Scott Shoeneweis to become a free agent.

As of yesterday it appeared the Sox had also cut bait on Ben Davis, who was a part of last summer's Freddy Garcia trade. However even though the team did non-tender Davis on Monday, they re-signed him as a free agent today. Shoeneweis is coming off a year in which he had a 5.59 ERA in 20 games, 19 started. It was not a very good year for him but previously he had been a valuable pitcher. Shoeneweis pitched much better in 2003 as a reliever with both the Angels and White Sox. He wants to start but if used in the bullpen he will be a great pick up for another team. Leave it to the White Sox to not have utilized him properly.

The Angels sign Orlando Cabrera and non-tender David Eckstein.

Eckstein was the catalyst when the Angels won the World Series in 2002 and Cabrera was a major part of the Red Sox championship in 2004. Cabrera is hands down the better player but it’s worth noting what Eckstein has done. He is the antithesis of the usual professional athlete. With limited athletic ability was actually a major part of the Angels' success. He will add chemistry to any team he is on and might have been a good option for the Twins. He is probably better suited to play 2nd with his arm but people have been doubting him for years and he has continued to prove them wrong.

Houston non-tenders Wade Miller.

Miller is now one of the most attractive pitchers on the free agent market. He is a top of the rotation guy and a former All-Star. It is a bit surprising that Houston did not decide to hold on to him. He was injured for parts of last year but when healthy, he pitched pretty well behind the other big three (Oswalt, Clemens, and Pettitte) in Houston’s rotation. This is probably a sign that they are saving their resources to bring back Carlos Beltran.

Former Twins Kevin Frederick and Dustan Mohr both were non-tendered Monday.

What is your favorite Kevin Frederick memory? I must admit I barely have any Kevin Frederick memories, let alone a favorite one. With an ERA over 6 this past season he probably deserved to be released. Dustan Mohr on the other hand had a decent season for the Giants batting .274 with a .394 OBP. He is a great 4th outfielder but may be able to find a starting spot somewhere. If he leaves the Giants, they will have will have nothing to show for Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser, and Franscico Loriano, whom they traded to the Twins last winter (A.J. was cut loose last week).

It is important to remember that by being non-tendered, a player becomes a free agent and is no longer eligible for arbitration. They are still able to re-sign with their old team but they must now compete with everyone else. Jacque Jones would have been one of the biggest names in this group had he not been offered a contract. Usually the Twins are not forced to make such controversial decisions in this process but it is a reality all teams across baseball must face.

Note - Joe Randa signed with Cincinnati yesterday, officially ending any speculation that he would play third base for the Twins next year; when the Twins chose to bring back Jones and Rivas Monday they pretty much shut the door on this possibility. This is rather disappointing because Randa would have been the solid veteran Ron Gardenhire likes and he would have allowed the team to move Michael Cuddyer to second. That infield would have been much stronger both defensively and offensively but Terry Ryan chose to play it safe with his outfield and maintain the status quo. In the past he has made such questionable decisions and they have worked out so we will all have to sit back and see how it goes.

-John Betzler

Subtraction by Retention?

First off, I want to apologize profusely for our extended absence here at Twins Chatter. I was absolutely crushed by finals here; I have written three(!) 10-page papers in the past week and am currently running on nothing but Mountain Dew (yeah, it’s not pretty). But despite our week in exile, we decided that yesterday’s monumental events could not go uncommented-upon here at TC.

As you’ve probably read in about a million places by now, Terry Ryan and the Twins did the unexpected yesterday by retaining all seven of the team’s arbitration eligible players: Jacque Jones, Luis Rivas, Matthew LeCroy, Johan Santana, Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, and J.C. Romero. Jones, Rivas, and LeCroy were all signed to one-year contracts while arbitration was tendered to the rest.

However, the biggest surprise of them all was the fact that Jacque Jones will remain a Twin for at least one more year. Contrary to sources such as ESPN’s Peter Gammons, who speculated that Jones would definitely be gone before last night’s deadline, TR gave Jones $5 million for one year (about $1 million less than he would have received in arbitration). No doubt this move will be the source of much debate among the Twins community for the rest of the winter, probably even more so because we won’t have any other moves to discuss: this is it. The Twins will not make another free agent signing this winter, and what you see right now (the 25-man roster) is probably the same one that will attempt to defend the AL Central crown in April.

But was this the right move? Should TR have kept Jones or instead pursued a minor free agent or two (such as Joe Randa)? I’m not condemning this signing (as some others undoubtedly will) but I’m still a little lukewarm. Jones is what he is, and he’s not going to get much better. He’ll hit .260-.280 on average, hit about 20 homers, and drive in 70-85 runs every year. He’ll strike out a ton but also play solid defense in the outfield. Is that kind of production worth $5 million? In today’s inflated dollars, probably yes. Someone would have given Jones $4-$6 million a year for two years had the Twins non-tendered him. But is he worth almost 1/10th of the Twins’ payroll, especially when they have three solid outfielders (Hunter, Stewart, Ford) already? Probably not.

I definitely don’t mind having Jacque Jones around. He’s a solid player who has a knack for coming through in the clutch. But in retaining Jones, the Twins have pretty much consigned themselves to an infield of Michael Cuddyer, Juan Castro/Jason Bartlett, Luis Rivas, and Justin Morneau in ’05. That’s a far cry (both offensively and defensively) from both the “League of Nations” infield or even last year’s Koskie/Guzy/Cuddyer/Morneau infield. Terry Ryan had to make a decision: either take a chance with a free agent to improve the overall play of the infield, or go with the sure (albeit limited) thing and maintain the status quo. Ryan chose the safe route, which consigns Lew Ford to the DH role once again. I don’t think that TR could have wooed a free agent with Jones’ offensive numbers, but I’m a risk-taker: I would have rather seen him roll the dice with a new acquisition or two. The status quo has only gotten us two first-round playoff exits the past two years, and no matter what Torii Hunter thinks, I think it’s time to try a new strategy.

But what’s done is done. Jacque is coming back next year at a decent (although not great) price, which will keep Torii happy for another year and will give Twins fans at least some sense of continuity. And who knows? Maybe JJ will reward the team’s fate with that breakout season we’ve been expecting for years.

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